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The Vulture Mine

In 1863, Australian Immigrant, Henry Wickenburg, discovered what was one of the most productive gold mines in the west; the Vulture Mine.  Quartz lode (in which the gold is attached to a rock) was the primary interest. Wickenburg chipped around at this lode which, “could be seen from the Hassayampa River”. The mine shaft was 3,000 feet long and remained at a perfect 35° angle all the way down. Every 100-150 feet there was an offshoot to the east and west in which they continued to dig. Ore was blasted out and then loaded into carts. These carts were then pulled by a one cylinder diesel engine to the top of the head frame. From here, the ore was dumped into a chute, then into a big hopper, and then transported to the processing buildings. After a few years, he sold four-fifths of the mine to the owner of Phelps-Dodge Mining Company. He did this because he was tired of mining. With his money, he bought claims along the Hassayampa River where he prospected. However, he never found anything quite like the Vulture. During its peak time, Vulture City had 5,000 people living there. The Vulture Mine is believed to help spark the development of Phoenix, and of Arizona. At the age of 85, Henry Wickenburg shot himself.


Over $200 million worth of gold was extracted from the Vulture Mine; however it is believed that half of ore was stolen. High-grading was big at the Vulture. High-grading is when miners or thieves would steel ore from the mine. Over 18 men were hung on the Hanging Tree for high-grading. The mine was forced to close in 1942 by President Roosevelt. Many people that moved away thought it would re-open again soon, however it never did. The once thriving town was now nothing but a ghost town.

The ore was first taken to the stamp mill. The stamp mill at the Vulture was huge and had 80 stamps. This was just one of the many ways to process the ore. From here, the ore, which was in smaller pieces, were taken to the ball mill. The ball mill was like a huge rock tumbler with lots of water and small metal balls inside of it. This turned the ore into a fine powder. After this, the ore was moved into a leaching area. The ore sat in large vats of cyanide in order to break down the minerals that were not important. Cat walks were used for workers to get across the ‘canals’ of cyanide. From here, large pumps were used to pump out and recover all of the valuable minerals left.


Looking down the main shaft of the Vulture Mine*                           The head frame of the Vulture (which has partially collapsed)

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The power house of the Vulture is where they first began to produce their own electricity. Up to this point, steam was used to produce power. The overhead six cylinder diesel engine was built in Germany and then shipped to the Vulture and assembled. This provided the main source of power for Vulture City. Just in front of this large engine sat a two cylinder diesel engine. This is no longer there but the concrete bed that housed it is still there. This engine and air compressor was used to fire up the larger engine as well as others throughout the Powerhouse. Most of the frames of houses in Vulture City were either destroyed or moved away. Some can be seen in the old parts of Wickenburg.

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A picture of the powerhouse and 6 cylinder engine                                          The housing of the two cylinder engine

The Blacksmith shop was the place where all of the tools and other mining equipment were maintained. It sits right next to the head frame and is identified by a metal roof. A one cylinder diesel engine powered an air compressor here. This furnished air was used for the blacksmith shop as well as underground drilling. A large holding tank in one of the offshoots, at about the 550 ft. level, pumped air further down the mine. This kept pressurized air available deep down.

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Blacksmith tools used to sharpen drill bits                                             The air compressor at the Blacksmith Shop*

The highest paid miners at the Vulture are believed to be those that operated the drills. They made $3 a day. However, they were charged $1.50 for the use of the bunkhouse and the mess hall. The blacksmith shop formed new and sharpened old drill bits that were used for drilling for packing dynamite.

Mine owners got together and sent farmers down into the Salt River Valley, now Phoenix, to get supplies for the mine. From here, the city sprung up. Grand Avenue, which was called Vulture Road, was the first road out of Phoenix. It had to go at an odd angle to get to Wickenburg. However, it was not really an odd angle, all the other roads were built straight afterwards.

The Glory Hole is the large hole in the ground next to the head frame. This was where the original tunnel was built. It had two levels. By 1923, all of the high-grade ore was dug out. This was a very rich pocket of ore and attracted many people. Some of these people were high-graders. All the high-grade ore was gone out of the Glory hole except that which was near the timber supports. These miners snuck in during the evening and slowly chipped away around the supports. Over time, they chipped away so much that it collapsed burying seven men and twelve burros. They are still in there today!


Looking into the Glory Hole

The Hanging Tree was the punishment for those high-graders that were caught. It is right next to Henry Wickenburg’s original home. It was a small, single room rock and adobe house. There are rifle portals on the side which show that Wickenburg was obviously trying to prevent claim-jumpers, or thieves, off of his property. His home later became the jail for Vulture City. Eighteen high-graders were taken by the Hanging Tree during the time of the Vulture Mine. The Hanging Tree is an ironwood tree and over times it branches fan down. Many people look at it and wonder how someone was hung; the answer is that the tree is slowly shrinking and is shorter than its original height.

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The Hanging Tree                            The remnants of Wickenburg's home next to the Hanging tree*

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The pulverizer at the Ball Mill                                                                  One of the cyanide leaching vats

The chemical storage building*

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The underground vault in the Bullion storage room                                                       The Assay Office

The Assay Office is located right next to the Hanging Tree. It was made out of rock taken directly out of the mine and the estimated value of that rock is about $600,000. These rocks were not processed before use, unlike other buildings. The Vulture Mine ore was always sampled. They would dig a little, and then sample it in the assay office. If the value met a certain point, then they would continue to dig in that area. If it did not, they would move on to a different area. The left part of the building was used for assaying, the center contained the underground vault for bullion storage, and the right was the guard’s living quarters. The large furnace in the left part was used to melt down the rock in order to test its value; to assay it. The chemical closet was also used as part of the assaying process. The center part had shot-gun guards present 24 hours a day. This housed the bullion from the Vulture Mine. It was robbed twice. One time, a guard was killed in the living quarters and the three bandits were chased into the desert. When the guards caught up, they discovered that they had stolen nothing. They killed them and brought them back into the town, but the citizens refused to have criminals buried in their city, so the guards were forced to take them back out into the desert for burial.

The “Apartments” was the first house that contained women. It was a combination of two buildings and was right next to the Bunkhouses. The bunkhouses were where unattached miners slept. The Mess Hall, just across the street, is found exactly the way it was left. The old stove, dishes, everything.

Old cans left in the kitchen                                                            The kitchen area left the way it was in the 1800's*

Overall, the Vulture Mine is an amazing place to visit. It is one of the best preserved ghost towns in the west. For more information visit:


The Vulture Mine with John & Marge Osborne By Ed Wons & Julie Cole. 2001

JPC Media LLC, 10 June 2010


Photos with a * were taken by Michael Neu

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